India: A Case of Bad Governance

In today’s Business Standard, Pranab Bardhan in his article “India — A case of bad governance“, makes a number of very important points.

The article is very instructive. Unlike many hagiographic accounts of India, it honestly states that India suffers from misgovernance — and what is more, baldly places the responsibility where it belongs in his conclusion: “The fault thus lies in us as much as in those who govern us.”

Bardhan notes that “dignity politics” is one of the debilitating factors. He writes:

. . . even when the [lower classes and castes] come to power, the issue of basic social services gets low priority in comparison with larger symbolic issues of dignity politics (particularly in North India). A perceived slight in the speech of a higher-caste political leader resented by a lower-caste one will usually cause much more of an uproar than if the same leader’s policy neglect keeps hundreds of thousands of children severely malnourished in the same lower caste. The issue of job reservation for backward castes catches the public imagination more fervently than that of child mortality or school dropouts that afflict the majority in those communities. Thus the demand from below for those basic social services is as inarticulate as their supply from above is deficient.

About the demand and supply of basic social services — a missing market of sorts — I too have concluded that the demand arises from an awareness of what is excepted expected, which awareness depends on the basic education system. Public education — by which I mean the education of the public about matters of civic, economic and social importance — is missing. I think that the focus of the government-controlled education system is on raising the peak education level of an elite (the IITs, IIMs, IISc, etc) rather than raising the education level of the citizenry broadly. My cynical conjecture is that the political leaders do understand that they their feet will be held to the fire if the people become aware of the misgovernance.

A lot of books with rousing titles such as “Imagining India” and “India Unbounded” have become hits. Most of them studiously avoid mentioning the dysfunctional — perhaps out of concern for sales figures or perhaps from a fear of displeasing the political powers that be. What we need to do is to look at issues that most would rather sweep under the rug and pretend that they don’t exist. Corruption, for instance, is widely regarded as a problem but I would argue that it is a symptom of deeper causes which are intertwined with other deep causes which form the basis for a whole host of symptoms such as corruption, poor educational system, lack of accountability, the persistence of social conflict, etc.

Bardhan notes that India’s heterogeneity poses problems that don’t arise in more homogeneous societies:

In very recent years, there are some faint signs that good governance is being rewarded by the electorate in some areas. Collective action in demanding and ensuring good governance is, however, particularly tricky in India on account of the extreme heterogeneity of social and economic interests involved, which always makes unified movement on goal formulation, agenda setting and policy pressure difficult to achieve for diverse groups, who in anticipation of this difficulty often opt for populist handouts and clientelistic arrangements instead. As a society we are much more diverse than, say, Japan or China, and coordination on most issues is more difficult here than in those countries. Sociologists have pointed out that extreme social heterogeneity in India is also a major cause of hierarchical industrial relations with attendant mutual distrust and labour supervision problems, and relatively low labour productivity in Indian factories.

I think that the way out of this problem is for the state to be totally blind to the markers of heterogeneity. For instance, the state must not ever inquire about the personal attributes of a person that have no bearing on social services. Thus, the state must not discriminate on the basis of religion. Whether or not a citizen is eligible for economic assistance, for example, should depend on the merits of the case and not on what that person’s religious affiliation is. The moment the state privileges one group over another, it invites the social evil of group-based divisive politics and, as Bardhan puts it, “populist handouts and clientelistic arrangements.”

India’s governance is arguably bad. The party that has been almost exclusively in control of that misgovernance is the Congress party which has been the fiefdom of the Nehru-Gandhi family. The incompetence of the party and that family has been demonstrated beyond the shadow of a doubt. But as I have argued before, they are not there through some divine edict; they are there because the people of India find misgovernance by the Congress and the Nehru-Gandhi family acceptable. The fault, dear reader, lies in Indians and not in the leaders that they freely elect.

6 thoughts on “India: A Case of Bad Governance

  1. Why everybody is making a hue cry about Dropouts from school, Education is compulsorily required only upto a level where we can read and write and more then that it is not compulosry. Even developed worlds has school dropouts and very less people go to professional education. The main reason of unemployment is blindly following our educational system instead of stressing on fields on actual work to done., there is huge requirements for plumbers, electricians or builders who ever they may be. They may be low works but now-a-days there is a lot of scarcity of them. More than half of the people who are doing their pg’s are not getting any job and looking at alternate employment like their own business or some other thing. what is the necessity of providing reservation at IIM’s & IIT’s where it is takes a lot of effort to get in, We cant make all the people PG’s by providing fee waiver.. Only person who are from well-todo families of backward castes benefit from this, In AP the govt is providing fee waiver for BC’s in PG courses also and 90% of them are from well todo families., which a spending money on wrong person..

    Government must just encourage a person only upto some extent (engineering/degree but not in IIT’s) after that if the person really had interest he will find some job, earn himself and finance his further studies.,

    In Our education system 95% of children studies reluctantly., so a poor person will send his child who is not willing to study to some work so that he will bring an additional income, 90% of government schools where these poor child’s study doesn’t have proper infrastructure or teachers and any interested student also change his ways here..

    So Don’t make an hue cry about school dropouts, the education is required only upto a stage where a person can read & write.. Even a person studied PG also can’t fill his own income tax return (he want an expert to fill it) or cant understand a judicial document(a lawyer is needed)..

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  2. I was discussing some of the points you’ve often raised (education, the Congress,pseudo-secularism to name a few) with a friend.
    He raised that old chestnut of ‘why don’t you try to change things instead of complaining’.
    I sat and thought about it. Sure, it feels good to volunteer, or directly teach slum kids to read and write. There is no denying the help and the gratitude of the beneficiaries, but at the end of the day how does it matter in the larger scheme of things?

    The entire system is rotten from top to bottom; unless one could magically instantly replace existing politicians/bureaucrats/corrupt govt. officials with honest, ethical, hardworking and committed people, what’s the use?

    I feel that a benevolent dictatorship (oxymoron, yeah) is what would help. A large group of people determined to affect positive change that can take over the running of the country. Your thoughts?

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  3. So this is not a case of bad governance at all this is the case of bad people….we are so use too of blaming other so that we never see inside….now let me put some point to prove that we r bad not government
    1. Corruption, just think a day from morning to evening….how much you are safe and what is untouched…Gas …..Try to get new connection of gas..and ask I only need gas cylinder not stove…you will know how good we are…then traffic police…then ration store…then income tax office (tax manipulation) then electricity connection opening bank account(not money but see the behave of the person in Bank)every where…you can’t able to see a day which is untouched.
    2. People use to fight for Religion But here in India we can fight for everything…Cast…state..you are Bihari …you are Marthai..South India..North India….languages hindi..Marthai..tamil..tu garib hai main amir hu..to amir hai main naxasali hu……and biggest to janta hai main neta hu
    3. See the people..can someone tell me 10 living name..one whom I can really proud…Don’t tell me NRI’s Name…Indian name….I am not able to find 10 name.

    So Guys come together and start Blaming…..all these are due to our Netas…right..happy….I am not agree…let me put my point…..Just one thing…touch your heart and ask how honest are you….courption ..end user in Leader..who is middle user…police… they are not Neta….clerck of government office …they not Neta..how many of us paid money to get work done…I believe 99%..rest 1% are the person they can’t give…they are not Neta…..So we (NOT NETA) are responsible for what we are now…all 3 point we can do right away without any neta……..So guys we are corrupt….and on what I shout proud of….being Indian….If you have answer and want to argue with me most welcome …just mail me ..I want to find a person who can justify that we r good.

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  4. Rex:

    India did have dictators — Nehru was one. Unfortunately he was dimwitted but he thought otherwise. Now that the Indian voters are happy to have his descendants rule, there is little chance of positive change. There’s one way out but it is not easy: public education. By that I mean the education of the masses in such areas as social, political and economic matters. A very large and ignorant public is not consistent with good governance, dictatorial or democratic. Singapore is a good example of an authoritarian government. But we don’t have a Lee Kuan Yew.

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